It’s no secret that pizza sits amongst the best foods ever created. It is versatile, delicious and combines flavors of love into one savory, cheesy oven-baked pie of greatness. Showing up with pizza in hand ensures crowd exultation because everyone fucking loves pizza.
Growing up in northern New Jersey, much of the population is not far removed from where their grandparents or great-grandparents settled. The area has been entrenched, stretching back generations, with hilariously stereotypical and proud descendants of Italians, Germans, Irish and many others. They may have been born in America but they identify with their heritage. With heritage comes recipes and cuisine passed down for generations from the old country.
I can live without the bagels from back home, even though I buy a dozen or two when I visit to store in my freezer. I can live without traffic, sprawl and the hustle and bustle of life in the burbs. Although it is difficult, I can even live without diners. What I have yet to get over, is something that very few people outside of where I grew up understand: outside of the New York and New Jersey area, pizza just isn’t right. Every town has a pizza joint. While some are better than others, you’ll never get a bad pizza pie in NJ or NY.
Go ahead, roast me all you want. I’ve heard it from countless people, telling me, “DiCarlo’s has great pizza, it’s just like NYC pizza,” or, “Vinnie’s is the same thing!”
I hate this argument because it is one they will never win.
It’s not your fault; you don’t know any better. I’m not trying to rustle your jimmies. It is a fact that pizza made outside of New York and New Jersey is garbage. It is the pizza, the culture, hell, even the water. Everything about it is better.
To try to level, think of pizza like barbecue. Texas or Kansas City, the Carolinas; everyone thinks their barbecue is the best and anywhere else is just pretending.
Some of you Midwesterners, specifically Chicagoans, have been reading this waiting to hit back like B-Rabbit. Sorry to disappoint you, but deep dish pizza is garbage. Sweet sauce? Fuck, man, what is this? I’m sure deep dish works for you and you’ll defend it to the death, but deep dish pizza is like Taco Bell compared to the real deal Mexican food. It’s still good but it’s nothing you’d really want to go out of your way for unless there are no better options.
There are days when I long for the thin crust greatness. I used take the train into Penn Station to go to Rangers games at the Garden. Madison Square Garden for the uninitiated. I’d always hit up Don Pepi’s in Penn Station. It’s quick and cheap for NYC, and a delicious way to soak up the booze you drank on the train ride in. It’s a tradition that I still do anytime I pay homage.
The one thing that stands out to me about pizza is the culture. I’ve eaten pizza in many places across the country and I’ve never been to a place that has the same charm as a small town pizzeria. Again, think about what barbecue means to Texas and that is exactly what pizza means to NY/NJ. I miss the arrangement my dad had with the pizzeria next to his hardware store. We used their dumpster, and they used our parking lot. We gave them discounted hardware and fixed things for free, and they’d give us cheap Italian food. My dad and the owner, Anthony (go figure), had an arrangement like Walt Kowalski and Martin the Italian barber in Gran Torino. If you overheard a conversation, you’d think they weren’t friends, but their small town pizzeria on Main Street was a staple of my youth.
I don’t doubt that wherever you live, there may be a place that makes good pizza. People have up and left the NY/NJ area to open their own place away from the motherland, and they are gifted or know how to throw dough, cheese and sauce together and put it in an oven. Everyone thinks their pizza is good and I’m sure the comments will reflect that. While it may be good, I can promise that it will never be great..